House Speaker Richard Thompson will step down from the West Virginia Legislature to join Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Cabinet as secretary of Veterans Assistance, government sources told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Three government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment ahead of a planned announcement, said Tomblin will name Thompson to the position on Thursday.
The Wayne County Democrat, who has led the House since 2007, was re-elected to a fourth term as speaker in January and presided over the 2013 regular session that ended last month. A 60-year-old lawyer, Thompson served two years in the U.S. Army in the 1970s.
Thompson will succeed a retiring Keith Gwinn, a 20-year Navy veteran and the department’s first secretary since it was elevated to the Cabinet in 2011. Gwinn had been with its predecessor agency, the Division of Veterans’ Affairs, since 2000.
Once Thompson resigns, Tomblin must call the House into session within 10 days so delegates can choose a new speaker. Potential candidates include Majority Leader Brent Boggs of Braxton County, Finance Chair Harry Keith White of Mingo County and Judiciary Chair Tim Miley of Harrison County. Republicans, meanwhile, hold 46 of the chamber’s 100 seats following election gains in November.
Tomblin, a Democrat, already has a former legislative leader in his Cabinet. Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette served as Senate president in the 1990s. Tomblin himself was Senate president when he won a special election for governor in 2011, prompting his resignation from the Legislature. He won a full term as governor last year.